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Channelling Jake the Muss

Wed 20 Apr 2005 In: Features

Alan Duff Award-winning Once Were Warriors author Alan Duff gives a fascinating insight into his aggressive mind with a rant worthy of psychoanalysis – and the takatapui community are happy to oblige. "Cook me some f**kin' eggs" has become one of the most quoted lines in Kiwi literature, immortalised in print and on film in one of our country's highest-grossing local pictures, Once Were Warriors; as has the story's main character Jake the Muss, the drunken Maori red-blooded heterosexual wife-beater of Raging Bull proportions. Almost as famous as Jake's eggs is the egg from whose pen he sprung, Alan Duff. Duff was one of a handful of prominent and semi-prominent New Zealanders who signed a letter to MPs last year urging them to vote against the Civil Union Bill, on the basis that we, apparently, “now know from extensive international research that children from unions other than marriage are much more likely to be the victims of abuse, murder, depression, lower educational achievement and poverty than those raised in a traditional heterosexual marriage." The “extensive international research” turned out to be non-peer reviewed fundamentalist Christian junk science which did not even refer to same-sex couples, only to heterosexuals. That didn't bother the signatories, who infamously included Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard. While Hubbard came in for a public roasting over his signing of the letter, the other signatories kept pretty silent. Businessman John Sax, who orchestrated the letter, spoke at length to and has been involved in ongoing correspondence with us over issues surrounding same-sex parenting. He says he wants to keep an open mind on the subject. But what of the remaining three signatories? In light of the conviction of former Christian Heritage leader Graham Capill for child molestation, the latest in a string of worldwide child sex scandals involving religious figures, it seemed like a good time to find out whether any of the signatories had reconsidered their unsubstantiated claims about gay parents being more likely to abuse and murder their children. TWO DUCK FOR COVER, ONE SPITS THE DUMMY Air New Zealand CEO Ralph Norris ignored our emailed queries, as did Auckland University's Pro-Vice Chancellor (Maori) and ex-Family Court judge Mick Brown. We did, however, receive a reply from Duff in response to our questions. We asked Duff on what basis he concluded that gay parents were more likely to abuse and murder their kids, seeing as the letter he signed provided no evidence of such. We asked him where he stood personally on the appropriateness of same-sex parenting, and how he came to sign the letter. He responded: “Stpuid [sic] and arrogant, shrill questions all. I signed my name to the document in question because in a democracy, which you gays hate, I have that right. If it ain't patently obvious that raising children in a gay household is not good for them, then any wonder the straight community at large doesn't get you. So pissoff with your bullying and find someone who'll lie down and let you stick it to them - I won't. And broadcast this to the country, the whole queer world for all I care. I cannot stand your pc, morally superior bullying.” We emailed Duff a second time to clarify his thoughts, asking if it would be fair to summarise his position by saying he doesn't feel he has to answer to the GLBT community for statements made by him in public about the GLBT community. His answer: “Precisely. Just as you do not have to answer for statements you make about the non-gay community. Debate traffic runs two ways, pal. And morality is not exclusively owned by anyone, and nor righteousness. You lot have overstepped the mark, like the feminists did, and have lost the plot and become hysterical but worse than that, bullies. Some of us hate bullies because we can see where it leads to next - dictating to us that your beliefs and morals are superior.” There's a lot going on in there. Duff clearly has a bee in his bonnet about those queer haters of democracy, who – just like women – should know their place and stop making such a fuss. They should pipe down, stop being hysterical, and if anyone asks where the bruises came from, just say they walked into a door and make sure dinner's on the table by five. MAORI HOMOPHOBIA EXPOSED While Pakeha New Zealand at large may be surprised at the ferocity of Duff's rant, no-one within the Maori community we spoke to was, especially not takatapui. Despite his respected status nationwide as director of the “Books in Homes” project, the consensus among our sources seemed to be that Duff represents a type of negative, homophobic aggression that runs like an undercurrent through Maori male society. Auckland University researcher Dr Clive Aspin is no stranger to dealing with Duff's type. He publicly spoke out against Anglican Church head Archbishop Whakahuihui Vercoe's misinformed statements in 2003, which suggested European colonists were to blame for homosexuality among Maori. He expressed concern to the producers of comedian Mike King's TV show that same year when his homophobic rhetoric reached all-time lows, culminating in an ansaphone message left for the producers of TV2 show “Eating Media Lunch” calling them “c**ksucker c**ts”. Aspin feels comments made public from John Tamihere's recent interview with a fundamentalist Christian journalist, in which Tamihere referred to gay MPs as “queers”, has blown the lid of Maori homophobia. Indeed, Duff's first response to came within days of Tamihere's rant hitting the headlines. “We're starting to see the homophobes in the Maori community come out of the woodwork, and they're being allowed to make those comments because people give them permission,” Aspin says. “It's quite sad. They've always been there, but it's sad to hear those comments being made public.” Aspin says Maoridom is sadly “full” of men like Duff and Tamihere. He finds Duff's reference to gay “bullies” particularly ironic. “They have thrived on being bullies all their lives, and when they're called to account, they don't like it.” Fiercely gay and Maori cabaret star Mika wonders whether Duff simply wants media. “He must have a new book coming out,” was his first response to Duff's comments. He also wonders whether Duff is channelling his aggressive creation, Jake the Muss. “I think every author identifies with their characters. I've always felt he knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote that book. His comments justify who he really is.” But Duff's river of homophobia crosses racial boundaries and also taps into the great white redneck reserves of Aotearoa. “The whole ‘Once Were Warriors' saga is a great example of how one film can portray a whole people. That sums him up to a tee,” says Mika. “He wrote a film that portrayed male Maori men as violent and hostile. He fulfils a need that the non-Maori community have. He paints a picture that non-Maori would like to see Maori as, so when he makes those comments, he simply falls into line with those anti-Maori, anti-women sentiments.” Mika likes to break down barriers, but acknowledges that there are some who will never change. “I personally tend to ignore homophobic men,” he says, but worries about the damage that will be done to young Maori. “My problem with the Duffs and Tamiheres and the Tamakis are the young men and women who because of their comments might hurt themselves, or destroy their lives because they think they're bad,” he says. “At the end of the day, there are young Maori men out there – I have people ring me from all over the country – thinking about committing suicide.” Transgender TV presenter Ramon Te Waake agrees that homophobia is prevalent amongst Maori, but says she has not experienced much herself. As a host for “Takatapui” on Maori television, she says feedback about the GLBT lifestyle programme has been mostly positive. “I know [Maori homophobia] does exist, it doesn't mean it happens at my back door or my family's back door, but it is out there. A lot of it is unspoken until someone just goes off like a gun, like Alan Duff or John Tamihere.” She's not angry at Duff for his comments, though. Rather, she feels a bit sorry for him. “He probably doesn't have any relationships with anyone that is gay or lesbian,” she says. “It doesn't sound like he cares, or wants to care. He sees it as us bullying him into something, backing him into a corner, and he's blinded by that. He doesn't understand there's a lot more to it than that. I think that's really unfortunate." "WE HAVE WON THE RIGHT TO BE WHO WE ARE" Echoing the “unfortunate” comments is veteran Radio New Zealand broadcaster and respected Maori elder Henare Te Ua, who tells critics of GLBT people to back off. “It seems to me terribly unfortunate that there are still sectors in the community who will not accept people for who they are,” he told “Within the gay/lesbian communities, there are so many people who have proven that with aroha, care and devotion, [they] are quite capable of raising children. And the children of those unions, the ones that I know, have contributed so much to the unified welfare of Aotearoa/NZ. So all I say to detractors is back off, back off. We of our communities have been persecuted for so long, but we have won the right to be who we are.” Te Ua is kaumatua for the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, which has also responded to Duff's comments. Te Herekiekie Herewini is manager of the Foundation's takatapui health and wellbeing team. "It is well known Alan Duff was raised in a family surrounded by violence. Both of his parents were heterosexual yet Duff aggressively lashes out about gay parents,” he says. "Maori communities can provide many examples of caring takatapui parents raising their children to be future leaders and contributors to society. A parent's sexuality is irrelevant to me. What is important is a parent's ability to raise a child in a caring, loving and nurturing environment." The Foundation's executive director Rachael LeMesurier also felt motivated to respond, particularly in light of Duff's reference to debate traffic running two ways. "'s questions were entirely appropriate and politely expressed. In light of the contents of the letter that Mr Duff chose to sign, there is every reason for the news media in an inclusive democracy to ask him those things,” she says. "It is very sad that he has seen fit to respond in such an unnecessarily aggressive and over the top manner. In our view, Mr Duff has demeaned himself far more than he has the gay and lesbian community by doing so." "WAKE UP GAY NEW ZEALAND" If anyone has been a lightning rod for hatred expressed towards the GLBT community in recent years, it has been our GLBT members of parliament. Maori Labour MP Georgina Beyer, who was showered with abuse when she confronted Destiny Church protesters outside Parliament last August, is hardened to it by now and thinks the rest of us should be too. “It is naive of the community to think that after the successes we've had with some legislation that we're not going to get some pretty harsh stuff said about us,” she says. “I've said it myself, it's coming on the horizon, we'd better have an intelligent response to it if we're going to have any response at all. Yes, there's going to be nasty speak out there. Wake up gay New Zealand, you've got to take it. And when you give it back, make sure you engage brain before you engage your mouth.” Of Duff's comments, she says they're “a pretty unsophisticated response from someone who is clearly a redneck, completely homophobic, and has a problem with any kind of acceptance and equality for us. He's probably one of a minority of New Zealanders that has such vehement views against us, and I would suggest he'd be a very good congregation member for Destiny Church. He's saying the same things the likes of Brian Tamaki are saying, except he's using far more upfront and vulgar language.” As far as Duff's references to democracy are concerned, Beyer says GLBT citizens have merely used the democratic process to fight for equal treatment. “We have practiced our democratic rights to be taken seriously as important members of our society, and people are now objecting to that quite vehemently and airing their views, which they've probably harboured to themselves largely. Now it's getting a public airing.” Can it get much worse? “I can't see how much worse it can get, except when verbal abuse turns to violence, and that's what bothers me. With some of the anti-queer stuff that's going on out there, it's giving a lot of redneck people permission to abuse us in the street and go back to that sort of stuff.” But although we should be hardened to the reality of anti-gay rhetoric by now, we should not be silenced, says Beyer. She and her gay colleagues certainly won't be. “As far as we're concerned, we're not folding. We're not running away into our little corner thinking how hurt we are,” she says. “We are standing there and taking it, and behaving in a dignified manner. I don't think Alan Duff is behaving with anywhere near some kind of dignity and integrity over it. I think at the end of the day, we have got to be intelligent about it. Screaming banshees, which is what they love to see us doing, doesn't add any strength to our argument and to our maintaining of the rights we've earned." Chris Banks - 20th April 2005    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Wednesday, 20th April 2005 - 12:00pm

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